SAN FRANCISCOThe probability that the semiconductor industry will one day use 450-mm silicon wafers in manufacturing has increased significantly, though the chance of achieving volume production by the original target date of 2012 is remote, according to a new report by analysts at Semico Research Corp.
Large chip vendors such as Intel Corp., Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. and Taiwan Semiconductor Co. (TSMC) are clamoring for a migration 450-mm wafers, which would enable them to build more chips per die and increase profits. Now, even some equipment suppliersmany of which have resisted the move to 450-mmare starting to come around, according to Semico (Phoenix).
"The [semiconductor] industry will not stagnate at the existing 300-mm process technology," said Jim Feldhan, president of Semico, in a recent report. Feldhan predicted that consumer demands for more memory would push NAND and DRAM to increasing product densities, increasing unit volumes. Logic products will continue to move up the performance curve, while offering more features in a system-on-chip or multi-core product, he said.
"The ability to produce chips in a more economical manufacturing environment is good for the overall industry future," Feldhan wrote.
While large, top-tier chip makers are pushing for 450-mm, many in the equipment community and elsewhere have argued against it. Some argue that aside from the top five or six semiconductor firms, no one will build a 450-mm facility. Others say it will never happen at all because the cost of developing the necessary equipment is too high and it is unclear who would foot the bill. Many in the equipment community remain bitter about the transition to 300-mm, when tool vendors bankrolled most of the development costs only to be left struggling to sell 300-mm tools after the dot com bubble crashed.
Earlier this month, Jack Sun, chief technology officer at TSMC, told an audience at the International Electronics Forum in Germany that he expected volume production on 450-mm wafers to be underway by the middle of this decade. But Sun did not offer specifics about who would carry the costs of development, estimated by some to be in the neighborhood of $20 million.
Semico's report argues that meeting growing IC demand will inevitably require the industry to take revolutionary action which is likely to be expensive and disruptive. the costly transition to a new wafer sizewhich the industry has gone through several timesis the more palatable pain compared with the unknowns involved in employing a brand new technology, such as carbon nanotubes, to satisfy this need, according to Semico.
Bssed on chip unit volume growth, there will one day be a point when building one 450-mm fab is more cost-effective than building two 300-mm fabs, according to Semico. Citing past wafer transitions, Semico concluded that all chip makers eventually benefit from a move to a larger wafer size.
Semico is now selling the report on the 450-mm landscape, titled 450mm Wafer Manufacturing: Who Needs It?